Derryfield Park will once again be the center of the New Hampshire Cross Country universe when the NHIAA conducts the Division Championships this Saturday. Below are the previews to all six races in the order they will compete.
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Girls Division 1 – 10:00am
At the Manchester Invitational just over a month ago, there were 4 Division One teams that placed within 14 points of each other. That didn’t include Pinkerton who had one of their top three runners in the freshmen race. That was a good indicator of how close the season would be for the girls teams and what makes predicting the D1 Championships very difficult. All season the rankings for the top 10 girls teams throughout the state has bounced all around and this week was no different. It is just too close to call and which is what will make Saturday so exciting.
If I had to pick a favorite for Saturday, I guess my choice would be Pinkerton Academy. They are led by seasoned veterans Meghan Cross and Ciara April that understand what it takes to win. Pinkerton always seems to be ready when it counts and will be ready to fight any team that wants to take their crown away. Closely behind Pinkerton would probably be Bishop Guertin led by huge 1-2 punch of Caroline Fischer and Caroline Towle. That is arguably the best 1-2 in the state. They just needs to follow through with the remaining 3.
Exeter and Salem are neck and neck and have moved all over the top 10 throughout the season. Both have been as high as 2nd behind D2 Coe-Brown and as low as 7th. Salem is relying on a strong freshmen group that haven’t been at Division Ones before, however since they were the Middle School State Champions last year for Woodbury they do know how to win. Exeter has a strong leader in senior Violet Sullivan and are healthy and ready to compete.
Concord and Bedford should be the next two to round out the top 6 for D1. Bedford has a strong #1 with sophomore Carly Rinko and Concord is led by sophomore Morgan Orcutt. Bedford was in that group of 4 from Manchester Invite that was separated by a mere 14 points, so they have the strength and potential on the
Derryfield course to contend.
As for the final spot to qualify for the Meet of Champions from Division One, Manchester Central and Nashua South will be trying to fill that position. South is led by the state’s fastest female runner so far this season with Cali Coffin, but they have been working through some injuries. If they are healthy they will put up a good fight. Manchester Central has the Pepin sisters and freshman Savaughn Facenda. At Thetford, South beat Central but Division One will have fewer numbers to separate their pack so it should be closer.
Individually, South’s Coffin is the obvious favorite. She is the one who dropped a 17:59 at Manchester Invitational. After her, it does become a bit murky. Bishop Guertin’s Caroline Fischer is the logical choice for the runner-up position, but if she has an incredible day coupled with Coffin faltering a bit, look for Fischer to challenge. After these two there should be a pack which contains Violet Sullivan (Exeter), Caroline Towle (Bishop Guertin), Arianna Braccio (North), Carly Rinko (Bedford), Bethany Graham (Salem), Meghan Cross (Pinkerton), Grace Mercier (Exeter), and Jessica Fontaine (Alvirne) all vying for top ten spots.
- Amy Sanborn
Boys Division 1 – 10:40am
It’s official, championship season is here! Some things have gone exactly as expected this season (Concord has dominated) and some things haven’t followed the predictions at all (a revolving door for the entire rest of the rankings). Let’s look at our teams to see how the season played out compared to our predictions back in August.
#1 – Concord (Preseason – #1)
Concord was the clear team to beat coming into this season and nothing has changed there. Forest MacKenzie has done his job as the top returner in the Division 1 and Eli Boesch-Dining has been right on his heels or just ahead of him all season. These two look very ready to repeat as the top two placers on Saturday. If there was a surprise in the Concord squad it’s been the outstanding season by sophomore Eben Bragg who made this juggernaut team even stronger. I think the question about Concord isn’t about whether or not they’re the best team in NH, but whether or not they can challenge Bishop Hendricken in a few weeks at New Englands. Look for them to have their top 5 finish in the top 15 in the race and have their whole varsity squad in the top 25.
#2 – Keene (Preseason – #4)
Keene remains the enigma of Division 1. They have a strong squad, but don’t go to any of the major meets that the rest of the top schools go to making them a little bit difficult to compare. That said, Jake Velazquez is clearly a strong top runner having broken 16:00 this season and winning an invitational down in Mass for the second year in a row. Keene has also been bolstered by an outstanding campaign by freshman Torin Kindopp ,who has been a strong second runner for the team. Returners Aidan Kindopp and Nico Ramirez have done an excellent job as the three and four but their fifth man will need to shrink the gap if they want to hold off Winnacunnet and Londonderry.
#3 – Winnacunnet (Preseason – #5)
The preseason rankings specifically mentioned Winnacunnet as a likely candidate to make the early season predictions look bad and they did not disappoint. Colin Donnelly has become a legitimate contender to bump off the Concord boys from the top spot especially after his victory at the Brown Invitational this past Saturday. Track star Jack Taylor has slotted in as a strong number two all season and with Austin Denis and Noah Taracena, both running in the low 16s, they’re as strong as anyone up front. If Concord’s squad has an off day these guys could absolutely make them pay for it, but they’ll need an excellent showing from their fifth man.
#4 – Londonderry (Preseason – #3)
The Lancers have absolutely lived up to expectations but have certainly followed a different path than we were looking at in the preseason. Will Heenan was looking to battle for the top spot in the division but ended up missing several weeks in the middle of the season due to an injury. He’s just recently moved back into the number one spot on the team and in the interim, sophomore teammate Matt Griffin held his own with some of the best in the division. Additionally, teammate Eric Nowak came out of nowhere to be a consistent third man for the team, but after him three runners have switched seemingly every week in their four and five spots. If Heenan is ready for a return to form, they could battle with Winnacunnet and Keene for every point to grab some hardware. It would not be a surprise to see spots 2-4 separated by less than 10 points.
#5 – Pinkerton Academy (Preseason – #2)
It might seem that Pinkerton seems to be having an off year with their movement back to fifth, but that may be a little misleading. Pinkerton’s runners have been very consistent in the performances from last year and the teams above have had several runners who substantially improved or were new to move them up the chart. Additionally, if there’s a team who always seems to bring their best effort to the Division I meet, it’s Pinkerton. Joe Gagnon has been a strong number one and should be right in the mix battling for a Division I individual title. Pinkerton does have an excellent addition of their own in freshman Luke Brennan who moved up into the second spot as the season wore on. Expect junior Nolan Preble,who had an excellent championship season last year, to step up in the next few weeks.
Champion – Concord
Runner Up – Winnacunnet
On the individual side, it’s hard to pick against the returning champion when he’s also had an excellent season as Forest MacKenzie has posted. That said, he will absolutely have his hands full with his teammate Eli Boesch-Dining. Boesch-Dining has beaten his teammate on a couple of occasions this year and they have raced shoulder to shoulder to the line on many occasions. Expect Saturday to be no different. Their biggest competition looks to be Winnacunnet’s Colin Donnelly, who is coming off a win at the Brown Invitational and who has the speed to beat just about anyone in a sprint. Pinkerton’s Joe Gagnon has been running strong all season and was right with the Concord guys last year at Meet of Champions. Exeter’s Jake Winslow is another one who is coming off an excellent race at Brown where he came in fourth. Finally, Keene’s Jake Velazquez comes in as a bit of an X factor with his schedule keeping him away from the other contenders. Expect him to be right in the mix from the get-go of the race.
Champion – Forest MacKenzie
Runner Up – Colin Donnelly
Girls Division 3 – 11:30am
Campbell is the two time defending champion, having won the title both in 2016 and 2017. With 2017 Coach of the Year Jan Platt at the helm and a solid record this season, finishing as the top D3 team at Manchester and Black Bear, the Cougars from the flat country look poised to capture their third championship in a row. Fronted by a strong trio in Cassie Hemming, Megan Whitnell and Riley Gamache, and with a solid supporting cast, look for a number of red uniforms sprinkled in the front pack.
The best threat to Campbell comes from either Kearsarge or Hopkinton. Kearsarge has the top returner in D3 champion in Mya Dube, and a strong supporting cast of Jenna Bear, Ada Gardner and Avril Prak, the Cougars from the hill country look to slide in if Campbell stumbles. However the injury bug has sidelined Kearsarge’s #3 for the last few weeks, which could make them vulnerable. Coaches Ernie Brake and Peter Angus know how to get teams ready for championship challenges so we’ll have to wait and see.
Hopkinton has been going through a transformation over the last few years, adding quality freshmen every year. This year they added Cailey Stockwell and Anna O’Reilly to a very proficient team of Sydney Stockwell, Emma Rothe, Lilia Klinger, Cate Westbrook and Lily Sabol and they’ve been putting it together of late, easily winning the Belmont Invite. They also just finished second behind Concord at the Capital Area championships by two points and seem to be gelling as a team just in time.
The last two spots will likely go to one of the following four teams: Portsmouth Christian Academy, Lebanon, Mascenic or Newmarket. PCA was on the radar last fall as a potential spoiler when they won the Cougar Classic at Derryfield School however only had four finishers a week and a half later at D3s. Led by D3 iron woman Liza Corso, with the Kjendal sisters providing backup, expect PCA to be in one of those top five spots if they have 5 girls in their line-up. Lebanon has moved down to D3 and are looking to make their mark this fall. As D3’s #3 team at Black Bear, the Raiders are led by Brianna Dibanico, and have a solid pack that if it moves up could find itself challenging for a top five spot and a trip to MOCs.
Mascenic looked to be another top five team going into this season, but with the departure of their #1 to graduation and then the defection of their next scoring three to volleyball, things looked challenging for this year’s Vikings. However last year’s number five runner,Quinn Aldrich put in a great spring campaign and very solid summer that has vaulted her towards the top of D3. With a solid supporting cast that is “all in” this season, the Lady Vikings have been holding steady. If they can string together five solid runs in late October, they can be in the mix.
The Newmarket Mules have been quietly working their way through the D3 ranks, finishing Manchester as the #6 D3 team. Led by Isabel Pentony, if the ladies from Newmarket can close up their pack time could find themselves earning a berth to Meet of Champions this fall.
Individually, Kearsarge’s Dube looks to have the upper hand as not only the top returner but having a very solid fall campaign. Also having a great fall is PCA’s Corso who will definitely be chasing the front. Other runners to watch in the front would be InterLakes Maya Weil-Cooley, Hinsdale’s Margaret St. John, Belmont’s Alice Riley, Gilford’s Catherine Stow, Mascenic’s Aldrich, the Bear/Baer’s of Kearsarge, the Stockwell sisters, Rothe, and O’Reilly of Hopkinton, and Campbell’s Hemming, Whitnell and Gamache.
Boys Division 3 – 12:10pm
Mascenic looks poised to return to the top of D3 as well. Returning a strong veteran group, the Vikings have been riding the wave after some early season stumbling. Finishing behind Trinity and Kearsarge at Sanborn early, the Vikings have been getting better every week, taking third in the small school race at Manchester, sixth at Black Bear and recently winning the Belmont Invite by 38 points. Led by sophomore Landen Vaillancourt and senior Logan Thibault, the Viking’s supporting staff have been closing the gap to their front running teammates and look to be in a strong position to defend.
The biggest challenge to Mascenic looks to be the teams mentioned above, Kearsarge,Trinity, and Campbell. Kearsarge has a lot of experience running towards the top of D3, finishing first, second and second the last three years. They were third last week at Capital Area, behind NH #1 Concord and Bow. Always deep, the Cougars are led by Ben Boulton, Edward Stowell and Trevor Pauling . Expect them to be firing on all cylinders.
Trinity, stepping down from D2 this year, took the division by storm by going out and winning the Jamie Martin Invite at Sanborn. Make no mistake, Trinity has put together a solid season of work and their rise to the top is from training and not simply stepping down to cherry pick a smaller division. Trinity got a good win on the Manchester City Championships two weeks ago on the Derryfield course against the rest of the Manchester schools and know the course like the back of their hand. Led by Danny Donovan and Alex Cermak, the Trinity team looks to upset the party.
Also ascending the ranks this year is Campbell. Led by the proverbial #1 from D3 in Jeffrey Allen, one of the best in New Hampshire over his high school career, the rest of the Cougar harriers have been improving all season long and have beaten both Kearsarge and Trinity. With the Matt Dion, the Scopelites boys, and Luke Gomes supplying support, Campbell is poised to swoop in if any of the teams mentioned falter.
That leaves one spot and it appears there are two teams poised to battle for that last spot. The Monadnock Huskies of Swanzey have a strong history of performance with a resounding win in 2016, smoking the rest of D3 by 30 points. However that team was heavily laden with senior talent and the 2018 version is a lot younger. Led by sophomores Tyler Hebert and Harry Ryan, expect Monadnock to battle for that last spot. Also in the mix is Winnisquam. The Wolves are led by brothers Kyle and Riley Mann, and Rick Fournier, have been getting better year after year. With help from their supporting team members the Wolves, stand a strong chance of making it to Meet of Champions in November.
Individually, Jeffrey Allen is the defending champion from last year along with one of NH’s best and would seem to be the prohibitive favorite. However, ascending the ranks of both D3 and NH is Mascenic’s Landen Vaillancourt. Vaillancourt had the upper hand at Black Bear, but he’ll certainly have his hands full with Allen. Chasing these two should be Trinity’s Donovan and Cermak, Lebanon’s Cody Davis, Winnisquam’s Mann, Fall Mountain’s George Gowdy, Hebert and Ryan of Monadnock, Boulton, Stowell and Pauling of Kearsarge, Dion and the Scopelites of Campbell, and Mascenic’s Thibault, Dakota Somero and Connor Traffie of Mascenic.
- Mike Smith
Girls Division 2 – 1:00pm
In the girls Division Two championships there is an obvious continuum from a year ago, as the top 7 teams from 2017 should once again be considered the top 7 teams coming into the final weekend of 2018. While last year had a clear favorite in Souhegan, no such favorite exists this year despite the presence of the top-ranked team in the state.
Coe-Brown, the aforementioned top-ranked team, is the slight favorite to climb back to the top of the podium after two years on the second step. They have been the most consistent team, recently winning both the Pelham Invite and the Battle of the Border. Both Addy Cox and Abigail O’Connor look to be in the top ten, starting the scoring off low for the Bears. An all-around team, they combine the runners up front with solid depth, enough to cover if someone has an off day.
Fourth ranked Con Val, with the emergence of Schuyler Michalak, is the team that has the best shot at winning the title over Coe-Brown. Add in Rachel Hurley and Clare Veverka, and you have three runners with a solid possibility of placing in the top 10, or better. Con Val also was the top DII team at Black Bear, where they were helped out by a strong showing by their 5th runner. The 5th runner will be key, as the Cougars will be next to impossible to beat through 3 or even 4 runners.
Sixth ranked Souhegan will need a tremendous effort from the line-up to defend their titles from the last two years, but don’t count out this veteran squad. Led by Arielle Zlotnick and Chloe Trudell, they have a similar team make up to Coe-Brown, with possibly a faster 1-2 with slightly less depth through 7. Third at the Pelham Invitational, they need to improve the gap between their second and third runners to gain the top spot. A falter by Con Val would likely place them on the podium.
Oyster River, the other state-ranked team at 8th, is the other team who could threaten the top two. 8th at Brown most recently with a quick team average of 19:53 and led by Lily Doody and Olivia Lenk, they seem to have interchangeable depth through the roster. They lack the speed up front of the teams ahead of them, but have the ability to compensate for each other better than most. They are probably the “dark-horse” team to make the top two, although the fact that they were a close third a year ago means that the horse is not all that dark!
It starts to get a bit hazy beyond the top four teams, but count on Hanover to be in the mix for MOC’s like they always are. Led by Christine Aman and Leila Trummel, they recently finished third at the CVC championships. They are somewhat of an unknown entity, but have consistently placed well against other DII teams and should be all but a lock for a 5th or 6th place finish.
Milford, led by stellar racer Lauren Robinson, is probably the narrow pick for the final spot to MOC’s. Only 23 points behind Souhegan at Pelham in 4th, Lauren’s low stick is a big factor in the bigger championship meets, and something that their biggest competitor, Portsmouth, doesn’t have. Portsmouth does have a solid top runner in Ellen Baker, and very solid depth, and would probably like to avoid a 7th place finish for the second year in a row. They recently raced at Brown in the Varsity 2 race, posting a 20:46 average.
On the outside looking in and hoping to upset teams in front of them are Merrimack Valley and Kennett. MV is helped by a likely single digit score from Sophia Reynolds and top-20 runner Emma York, while Kennett, led by Zara Cheney and Hannah Thelamark, have the benefit of decent depth. All-in-all, it should be a great race to watch with the top teams separated by only a few points and a great battle for the final MOC position!
Individually, the defending New England champion Julia Robitaille of West is clearly rounding back into form, as evidenced by her recent win at the Manchester City Meet. She ran 18:28, 45 seconds faster than her time over the same course at the Manchester Invitational. A very convincing win at the Southern Cluster meet backs up the fact that she is still the one to beat. Merrimack Valley’s Sophia Reynolds, fresh off a fantastic run at the Capital Area meet where she ran 18:22 and broke the course record by over a minute, will not be easily dispatched. While these two are the favorites, keep an eye out for Milford’s Lauren Robinson, winner of Pelham and a very dangerous runner who has evolved into a hunter – her well-paced races see her open up big gaps over the final mile. Look for the chase group to include West’s Corinne Robitaille, Coe-Brown’s Addison Cox, Souhegan’s Arielle Zlotnick and Chloe Trudell, and Con-Val’s big three of Rachel Hurley, Clare Veverka, and Schuyler Michalak.
Boys Division 2 – 1:40pm
The Boys Division 2 Championship Meet looks like it will break down into 3 main tiers of teams this season. Within each tier anything could happen, but it would be surprising if any team jumps a tier.
Tier 1: Coe-Brown and Oyster River
With both teams looking really good all season and getting sharper each time out, it looks like Coe-Brown has the slight edge over Oyster River as the favorite to take the title. Led by junior Dawson Dubois as well as sophomores Luke Tkaczyk and Wyatt Mackey, the Bears seem to be the best team in the division. Boasting around a 40 second gap between their #1 and #5 runners, Coe-Brown looks to grab a lot of low numbered spots.
Let’s not count out Oyster River however. After running very well at Brown Invitational this past weekend, the Bobcats look like they are at their best when it counts the most. Oyster River also is posting a similar #1- #5 gap number as Coe-Brown, led by sophomore Andrew O’Brien, senior Henry Keegan, and junior Myles Carrico, who looks like he is back to where he left off last year (or better). Oyster River could absolutely challenge for the title. They are the defending champs and will not relinquish their title easily. Look for a ton of runners from this tier to populate the top 15 of the race.
Tier 2: Souhegan and Hanover
These teams both are structured similarly: no out front runner, but rather a tremendously tight pack that will be just off the main pack of runners in the race. Souhegan gets the nod here for a prediction of 3rd place. The Sabers, led by junior Thomas Headington and senior Nathan Stine, are a very talented squad, but don’t seem to have enough to break into the top tier. Take nothing away from Souhegan though. They have been performing well all season and are looking good at the right time.
Hanover shocked everyone (except perhaps themselves) last year at D2s with a strong 3rd place finish and could absolutely do so again this year. No surprise performance this year however as the Marauders have been running well at big meets all season. With a top four separated by mere seconds and drawing from all four grades, do not sleep on Hanover. Led by senior Jack Lynch, freshman Sam Murray, junior Daniel Bandler and sophomore Daniel Frost, this team is strong and will give Souhegan all it can handle.
Tier 3: Con-Val and Bow
We welcomed Bow back to Division 2 this season, and the Falcons did not disappoint. Placing 4th at last year’s D3 meet, Bow looks much improved and has made an impact on the division for sure. Led by senior Kirpal Demian and junior Colin Lessard, Bow looks poised to grab the 5th spot this season in D2. Right with them is Con-Val, running well all season. The Cougars placed 12th st D2s last season, and obviously put in the work to get better. Led by senior Evan Coyne and junior Harrison Kim, Con-Val could really challenge Bow for that 5 spot.
Tier 4: Merrimack Valley and Sanborn
Not surprisingly, each tier seems to contain similarly constructed teams and this one is no exception. Outstanding “low stick” runners up front but lacking that support from the 3-4-5 guys to propel them into top 6 consideration. Merrimack Valley has an outstanding 1-2 in seniors David and Matt Reynolds but needs the rest of the Pride pack to have a lights out day to beat a tier 3 team. Ditto for Sanborn as the Indians have sophomores Dylan Khalil and Owen Stocker running really well but need more from the rest of the squad to break through.
Individually, David Reynolds of Merrimack Valley looks to be an overwhelming favorite here. He has been near or at the front of every big race this season and looks to be the best D2 runner around. David can’t take it easy however; he’ll be hassled all race by a younger crew in Dubois and Tkaczyk of Coe-Brown, O’Brien and Carrico of Oyster River, and Khalil of Sanborn.
Good luck and good health to everyone! Saturday can’t come soon enough!